OLG says long-awaited first step to northern Ontario casino expansion 'few weeks' away
North Bay city councillor lukewarm on a casino says 'cow is out of the barn'
Plans for new casinos in northern Ontario are slowly moving ahead, just as the province says it is ready to announce the private company that will run them, three years after it was originally expected.
"The announcement is coming within the next few weeks and we're very excited," says Tony Bitoni, media relations manager for Ontario Lottery and Gaming.
Private companies have been involved in a private bidding process to win the contract to operate five casinos in the north.
The winning bidder will assume ownership of the casinos currently run by the province in Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie and take over the lease (which still has about seven years left on it) for the slots at Sudbury Downs.
The deal would also require the casino operator to not make any changes to the current workforce, representing hundreds of jobs in those three cities, for one year.
The private company, which would provide a cut of its profits to the provincial government, would also be tasked with building new casinos in Kenora and North Bay.
North Bay city council has been getting ready by designating two properties this week on Pinewood Park Drive as casino sites.
One is the former Moe-Ze-On Inn strip club, seized by the city years ago for unpaid taxes, while the other is a large wooded lot owned by a numbered company.
Bitonti says those moves are based on private conversations with the would-be casino bosses, who have already been scouting out locations and partnerships in northern cities.
"What North Bay is doing in terms of pre-zoning some lands is a direct result of what the proponents are saying," Bitonti says.
But North Bay city councillor George Maroosis hasn't heard anything about that.
He says there are definitely anti-casino feelings in the city, some of which were shared at the meeting this week when the zoning of these lands was discussed.
"Very hard not to agree with them. Unfortunately in my view the casino business is in every corner store these days," Maroosis says.
Maroosis says North Bay city council has reserved the right to still say "no thanks" to a casino, once it sees what the private operator has planned, but says it's an unfortunate fact that governments are now addicted to gambling revenue.
"As far as I'm concerned, the cow is out of the barn and what's the point of closing the door when he's gone," he says.
While some outlying communities, such as Callander, have suggested they could get the casino if North Bay ultimately says no, Ontario Lottery and Gaming says that's not possible.